tv Book Discussion on Why Presidents Fail And How They Can Succeed Again CSPAN September 18, 2016 4:45am-5:31am EDT
biased-- bipartisan book. i have two democratic presidents, one republican president in its. it's not about party. it's that the job of the president. i talk about the first thing i talk about is the iranian rescue failure in 1980, some of you here can remember that. and then talk about-- that of course was the carter administration. i then talk about three failures from the bush administration, 911, the iraq war and the financial crisis. also, hurricane katrina. i talk like to fill your strum the, the affordable care act rollout and the failure at the veterans administration to care for our veterans. what runs through all of these is that presidents-- modern
presidents are so obsessed with talking and campaigning and going places that they fail to take the time to think about the third step of leadership, which is implementing policy. in fact, i start the book with a quote from thomas jefferson "the execution of the laws more important than making them". if you think of leadership as three tasks, getting the answer right, the policy right, communicating that and implementing its the argument i make in this book is that presidents spend so much time on communication that it leaves them little time to think about how they are going to implement the policies they want to implement. that involves understanding something that in the business schools we call organizational capacity. in other words, if the federal government, if a piece of the
federal government that you are giving this job to, is it capable, is it up to the job that you the president are asking it to do, so to give you an example of why there is this disconnect, let's merely jew-- regional portion. whenever america gets a new president and vice presidents, a team of government workers in the general services administration is responsible for taking the photos of the outgoing president and vice president and putting up photos of the new ones. while the rest of the country is digesting the election results and slowing down for the holidays, this team is working overtime. they must get official photographs taken of the new leaders, have them reproduced in the thousands and then make plans to put them up in 8600 and three government offices in the united states, proximally 250
embassies and consulates and between 500 and 1000 us military installations around the world, depending on whether we are at work and how you count them. this is no small undertaking as the-- switch must accomplish in a short amount of time from just before to just after noon on an operation day. the symbolism is immense. on the day after inauguration day, proximally 2.7 million civilians and 1.5 million military personnel who work for uncle sam come to their offices. the claims adjuster at the social security office in rochester, new york, the deputy chief in albania, the forest ranger at yellowstone national park, the biologist at the center for disease control in atlanta, and the soldiers stationed in germany all see the
same thing when they arrive, their new boss. they may not have voted for the new boss. in fact, they may hate him or her, his new team, his party, but they all know who the boss is. they have all entered government service knowing that whether they like the president or not, they work for the presidents. now, let's go to the white house. on the morning after the inaugural festivities, a tiger may be slightly hung over president and vice president get to work. plenty of new people around them to work for them. most of them, however, are in military uniforms. they open the doors, flight helicopter, manned the watch and the guns that sit on top of the white house. what these new employees do not actually do is talk to the president.
in fact, on that first morning after the inauguration, the people most likely to talk to the new president are the same ones who have been talking to him for the past two years, his close campaign advisers. there will be some new faces. every morning the cia sends over someone with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist 2% the presidents daily brief, a compilation of the most sensitive this goings-on collected covertly around the world. some of these spies are undercover and are probably the only federal employee who don't want it when office on the morning after election day and see photos of the new president and vice presidents. but, most of the people the president sees every day will be the same people he saw when he was campaigning. so, right there you see the disconnect that begins very early on, really from the first
day of the presidency. was the president will have a hard time understanding, which frankly any human bead word is just how large and how complicated the government that they run is. no wonder that being human presidents like to revert to what they always did before. they campaign. they talked, they gave speeches, they went on television, they appear to beautiful settings custom made for the camera. what they didn't do is figure out, what is going on in that organization down the streets are quite is actually happening across the river? what have people said about them for the past five, six, 30, 40 years? what do i need to know. not surprisingly presidents don't do that. they drove to do that. they keep on doing what they
have been doing and in that they miss a couple of important things. one is that with the government this big someone always knows the answer. someone knows the answer. of the question is, when the presidents be able to get the answer? will he or she be able to figure out what the competing explanation are from vastly complicated questions? the second thing that the president doesn't really understand is that in the government this big at any given point time something is going very right and something is going very wrong. so, lets me read you another short excerpt from a chapter that i call spacewalk and crashing websites. on december 21, 2013, 2 americans, michael s hopkins and
richard the struck you attached electrical connection errors from a malfunctioning cooling pump. this may sound very ordinary until you realize that the two americans were astronauts and the cooling pumps they were fixing was part of the international space station 240 miles above the air. during their five and half hour spacewalk they were suits designed to protect them from the lack of auction, freezing temperatures in the cosmic dust that makes space and inhospitable place for humans, to say the least. two months earlier on october 1, 2013, millions of americans in search of subsidized health insurance law shown to new federal website hoping to buy insurance as easily as they could buy a plane ticket on
expedia.com. or a book, or so they thought. to the dismay of the many americans shopping for health insurance and to the surprise of president obama and his top staff, the websites crashed, not once, not twice, but again and again and again over eight period of two long months. the press erupted in a frenzy over the inability of the federal government to build the website at the heart of the health care reform. they were joined by a polarized sitter surgery who wanted to buy health insurance that were endlessly frustrated and half of who saw the whole episode as we had more evidence that the government cannot organize a two-car funeral. the pundits pounced upon in the federal government could not do technology, but that government was hopelessly broken and yet no one seemed to notice the technological marvel of men walking in space to repair a
space station that was accomplished in the same manner in which the healthcare.gov the website was built. federal bureaucrats at nasa contracted with a variety of companies from a little-known company in massachusetts that made the space suits to boeing, the aerospace giant that designed and built some of the most a sophisticated components of the space station. in another part of the government, the one dealing with healthcare federal employees at the centers for medicare and medicaid services have contracted with information technology companies in the private sector to build the infamous website. the success of the spacewalk passed with little notice while the failure of the healthcare.gov website ruined president obama's christmas, pushed his approval rating to new lows and convinced americans wary to be convinced that obama
and the government he was in charge were hopelessly inept. so, why do we care about this? we care about this because when presidents experience these large-scale governmental failures, two things happened. one is that they are political capital goes way down. known expected president obama to write the code for the website. no one expected jimmy carter to five helicopters into baghdad and rescue the hostages, but americans to expect the president to be on top of that apparatus of the government. of course, a lot of these stories and here have presidents who were just as surprised as everyone else, which shows a dangerous distance from the government they run. second reason we should care is that every time we have a massive government failure city
since were skeptical about government in the first place become more and more convinced that the government just can't do anything right. one of president clinton's favorite saying and he still says it, actually, if you hear him on the tv these days he still says her from time to time was most people think that government can't organize a two-car funeral. it is so true and every time there is one of these big failures that's what happens. now, i'm not arguing in the book that we can prevent all failures we can't and many of these things happen. what i am arguing is that if presidents spent a little more time on governing and a little less time on talking, they might reduce the probability of failure. so, as we go through the case studies in the book, in each instance the following thing happens, there were multiple
warning signs that the piece of government that the president gave the job too, whatever the job was, multiple warning signs at that organization was in trouble. was it just simply in trouble. poor president carter was confronted with a military wherefore for decades before the attempted rescue mission high-level military commission had, in fact, argued that the government-- us military as constituted could not do joint exercises. they could not put forth a joint plan in battle. also, what happened is that all of the special courses were dismantled in the decades before jimmy carter became president. so, he then proceeded to order a rescue mission i'm a which is
dependent on the three branches of the military cooperating with each other and with no real special forces command. now, we have a full special command. of that failure was one of those big crash and burn failures and because it happened in president carter's first term, in fact, he lost the election to reagan not fall. it happened in april. he lost as some of us remember big-time in november. the fact is that there were so many warning signs along the way. in each of the stories that i told the book, there are plenty of warning signs that failure is likely to happen. so, let me just pause by going to the second part of the book and how they can succeed again. i want to talk about two things here. one, the organization of the
white house itself. the white house is not organized to understand the governments they run. it gives lots of attention to communication, lots of attention to politics, lots of attention to the formulation of policy that is a presidential priority, but very little attention to the executive branch of the government, which is massive and which as i argue in this book presidents need to understand. so, the first recommendation of how they can succeed again is a very sort of organizational one, which is they have to be-- beef up the department cabinet affairs, stop thinking of cabinet secretaries as people who make speeches on the message of the day, which is frankly what they think of cabinet secretaries in the white house and understand that the cabinet secretaries are their ambassadors to this mammoth
organization. secondly, along the technical lines as i advocate on early warning system set up in the white house so that presidents can understand what might be going wrong out there because it does it matter. , when one of these things blow up it doesn't matter if it started under the under-- other guy. the current president takes a hit; right? the current president gets all the complaints and loses political capital account passed the rest rest of their agenda and will lose midterm elections or sometimes lose the general election, so it really doesn't matter when it started. what matters is when it blows up and early warning system would prevent that. finally, with what really need to today, we have a primary system, a nomination system the house many good aspects to it, but it differs from that old-fashioned nomination system in one critical way.
we used to nominate presidents within political parties by conventions propose only of those superdelegates. for more-- most of american history, that is how-- primaries if they were held at all did not matter. roosevelt was nominated by superdelegates. kennedy was also, eisenhower was, etc. when we moved to a system of primaries, many advantages to that, much more open system, but we lost something. we lost what i call pure review and political scientist call pure review. in other words, the electorate was not in the same business of government and governing whereas in the older system people picked the president and were in the same business. so, i like to tell the following imagine a-- imaginary story.
in 1960 decade and he had to win the support of governor lawrence of pennsylvania in order to win the nomination. because governor lawrence controlled the delegates from pennsylvania. you can imagine that between jack kennedy and bobby kennedy and his whole campaign there were many smoke-filled rooms with cigars and brown liquid being consumed and you can imagine that the talked about real things. they talked about could he win. they talked about could he govern etc. i want you to imagine donald trump is being enough room with the equivalent of governor lawrence and lighting a cigar and drinking his whiskey and saying, oh, yeah i'm going to build a wall and make mexico pay for it. of the governor would say being a person who has run a government would say, what. what are you smoking that cigar, okay i'm in it just wouldn't pass the smell test.
we have lost something of pure review. the only pure review we have in that-- this is a very close, but it is in the press these days. the press has fallen victim to the click date, you know, society where they just want clicks and clicks and clicks, so they are not very interested in drilling down on what a candidate knows or how realistic his or her plans are. i don't have as clear an answer to that problem is i due to the first one, to the organizing of the white house. but, it is clear that we have to do a better job of evaluating, not just what presidents say, but can they do it because when they can't do it, when they failed to implement those failures are so big that all of the spinmeisters in the world and all of the slick and people
and all of the great television producers cannot get them out of trouble. that's what these failures are about in american history. thank you very much and i will take comments and questions. [applause]. >> yes, right here. >> elaina, i'm writing a book about the 1960 democratic-- >> nice to have you here. >> through the eyes of the stephenson organization. in doing that, i interviewed a fellow by the name of db hardiman who was like chief of staff to sam raven and he gave me a great quote. he said "that the currency of politics--
>> is a guy who changes his words not every week or every month, but every hour and he also doesn't show any interest in government, as you pointed out. i mean, if david lawrence was in the room with him and he couldn't keep his words, i mean, for a professional politician where they rely in your word to make agreements because of the quickness of events as you know from your days at the white house. >> great observation. i can't wait to see this book. i would read it. thank you. >> can you summarize his comments because you can't hear. >> this gentleman is writing a book about the 1960 presidential campaign through the eyes of the
stephenson organization and he makes to very critical point, which is politicians have to keep their word and politicians have to know something about governing and a certain politician named donald trump doesn't need to know about either one of them and i think that that's on astute observation. this is a really big american problem. people believe in the people running for president. and they have consistently not delivered and it's a bipartisan problem. there's no question about it. so, what you get is this real disenchantment with our electoral system and a reluctant trust and i think it's corrosive, i mean, it's terribly corrosive and i'm hoping that maybe we have reached a nadir of it and we can serve to come back after this election. yes. >> new yorker-- the new yorker ran an article recently on obama's failure to close guantánamo before he leaves
office. did you read it? >> no. >> it dove into the history of it and all of the different facets and bureaucracy and i wondered if you had an opinion on if obama had seen those warning signs beforehand because in almost eight years it may be is not going to happen. >> you know, that is a great example to be bipartisan; right? that's a great example of presidents or presidents to be not have any sense of what the actual problems weren't doing their. you could have known not. it was knowable or part of the argument i make in the book is that a lot of the things that go wrong are not acts of god. they are knowable ahead of time if someone knows something about the government, if they pay attention to what has been written about the government and guantánamo is maybe the clearest example because here we are
seven and half years into this administration and we haven't closed guantánamo. a lot of this, no offense to speechwriters who i love, and a lot of this is that some of these lines that the speechwriters come up with are so wonderful sometimes and so compelling and, i mean, nothing differentiated barack obama from george bush more than i'm going to close guantánamo. everyone at the time was saying, no you're not. who's going to take these people? are you really going to put them in maximum-security prisons coming on and on and on. it was all knowable and that's one of the things that i emphasize in the book is that if you understand the government that you are running, you're not going to avoid failure, but you might be able to run with the number of failures you have or that severity of them. >> i would use communication.
out use marketing because i think campaigns have become marketing strategies and have nothing to do with politics and i think that is-- the more i listen i got more and more comfortable because what's the role of citizens was present gets elected? it seems like the pictures are that you lead, yale, harvard, stanford. i'm a community organizer and labor organizer. i don't want to go to those schools. are not going to go to those schools and the people i work with and organize have different interests than these insiders to and as dangerous as trump is, he has tapped into the fear and the disorientation and all of the broken promises, but it seems you want to eliminate citizens or reduce us to choosing a
president every four years and then kind of going back into the woodwork until we have another marketing strategy where we choose between conservative hillary clinton whose establishment or enough over here, so there's a lot in there, but i'm really worried citizens are disappearing to the tactical really because it's a business model. >> imacs is saying quite the opposite in which i think voters need to be more exposed to through how they watch and through debates and voters need to be more exposed to the problems of governing so that they can make better choices so they won't fall for the easy line, so that they won't have expectations that are constantly squashed. they need to ask candidates and this is citizens and the press that interlock, they need to ask
necessity? >> i think you have to balance it out. i think that hillary clinton was late in coming to her free college position because she knew, i mean, she knew all the problems with it including the fact that it could into being just a great big giveaway to rich kids, great big giveaway to harvard and yale. so that's a real problem. she was late in getting there. she made a political judgment and when she gets an offer she's going to have to figure out okay, how do i do this? how do i make good our most of this promise and make sure that everybody in america can go to college without spending so much money on kids going to harvard and yale whose parents can't afford it? that's going to be her challenge in government. they all do this. they all do this. the question is how unreal are
the? independently of unreal things, that's kind of a middle one. part of it is that they don't understand, most of them to understand the government they run. i think hillary clinton does. the citizens have been divorced from this. the citizens have been divorced from being given a realistic sense of this because as the gentleman said, it's all marketing. we are selling presidents and we are selling lines and selling stuff without anybody seriously saying can you really do that? how could you do that? do you really want to do that? who's going to do it, right? is the military capable of doing that? is the centers for medicare and medicaid, can actually do what you're asking them to do?
i think that something is missing in our politics, it's more difficult getting into it. >> i don't want to be simplistic and i will come up here so you all can year. we have an example in city government of the elected officials being elected to sell the ideas and shape the ideas and policies, but we higher city managers your not all of them, but some of them. i'm just wondering if, why don't we have a cadre of federal government implementers who, though clear the politics of have to be played with, the president could have a chief of staff as well as a city manager. >> that's a good idea.
>> i need a federal manager. >> in great britain, or canada, they have their senior civil servant in the government who interacts directly with the minister, what we've done here is we have layered in between the cabinet secretary and the senior civil servants who know where all the bodies are buried know what works and what doesn't work, we have layered a lot of people, including a lot of smart young people who worked on the campaign to get these jobs. they never last very long. they come to the kennedy school at harvard or the go to law school because they're bored to death and they don't know what they're doing. they have lived in a between a cabinet secretary -- layered -- who should be getting heard and don't get hurt. so one thing i would do is send out, and i think there are people, most people in the
government have been there for decades, so they know it's going to work. they know you're not going to close guantánamo. they know a lot of this stuff. sometimes there's a downside to that the there is a resistance to change, okay, which every president has to cope with. the senior civil servants also know that if they just wait this guy or gal outcome everything is going to start all over again. so that is a problem with that but it's the layering that i think is really magnified a problem that the presidents have going in, which is the problem of spending all their time in a marketing campaign or any communications campaign, and not enough time actually making what they promised happen. yes?
[inaudible] >> as political media evolves and there is a particular need for greater communication, dui count for this, maybe dynamics with politicians and media and how they communicate speak with know, i really don't, because i am less interested in communication in this book and more interested in effectively implement in policy. interestingly enough, right, for liberals or progressives this is important. because liberals and progressives want the government to work. they want the government to help people. they want to help get rid of inequality, provide opportunity, et cetera. it's equally important ironically for conservatives. only if such reflective hostility, the government, that they don't get it.
conservatives want to cut the government. we started in 1994 with the gingrich revolution. we've had plenty of very conservative presidents. we've had many years now of a conservative house of representatives, and the government is now smaller than it was, okay? in their primary mission they have failed. one of the reasons they failed is that they are allergic to govern so they don't spend time figuring out, well, what is that we need the government to do and what is a we could get to the states, or we could stop doing, or whatever. they don't make the hard decisions. they just love everything off at the top. and then what happens? we don't have enough air traffic controllers. everybody's airplanes are late. everybody in america's mezzo ben vargas says what he doing? and they give them back the money. ironically we are used to
liberals carrying the government. one of the arguments i make in the book is that conservatives need to care about conflict because they have been real failures at this date object is of making the government smaller. part of that is just his inattention that people have to the actual functioning of what many people call the bureaucracy. i like to call it the permanent government because it is more or less permanent. >> any other questions? if not, thank you for coming. >> thank you so very much. [applause] >> thank you all so much for coming. please help us by folding up your chairs, placing them against the bookcases. you can come up, say hello, get a book and get it signed. let's have another round of applause for elaine kamarck. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
programs online at booktv.org. >> best selling author eric metaxas is next on booktv. his most recent book is "if you can keep it: the forgotten promis of american liberty." >> welcome and happy flag day. [applause] >> i hope i have communicated to you how excited i am that it is flag day. did anybody read what i wrote in
today's paper? [applause] i wrote an op-ed in "the wall street journal" today about flag day am and i'll be talking about that a little bit later on but i'm just really, really excited about that. i want to talk about why that is important to be that it is important and it kind of ties into the theme of the book actually. i'm not talking about the book yet but i'm introducing myself first. i'm not going to introduce myself. i did the last time, let me back up. if you don't kno know what socrs can see is that a lot of people watching c-span and facebook have no idea what it is, i want to say first of all, thank you for wrapping up the early bird dinner and hustling to the tv, c-span people. i appreciate that. it's tough to pull himself away. corral has several soups and i know it's very, very tough to poor software but i appreciated. i've been on c-span before.
it's okay. they get my humor. it's okay. but i want to say that this is a socrates in the city event but it's a little different are normally at socrates in the city i interview someone and you can go on youtube if you're not familiar with it just go to socrates in the city.com. we've got tons of videos of me interviewing really extraordinary people. we had, i can think of the list but can think of a list by can think of the list but if you go there with dick cavett, the dick cavett, malcolm gladwell right here on this stage. we had share, can't even think. tony fields. hold on. funnyman jack carter. bernsen schreiber, the comedy team. we also george plimpton, the andrew sisters, the lennon sisters, the smothers brothers.
-- i think that's about it. vladimir, flip wilson, tell us about, joe namath, abbott and costello are greatly. that was a cameo. mae west and while bill hancock right here on this stage the i reviewed them all. also charles darwin. [laughter] and lafayette the key market yet -- marquis de lafayette. it was really old. socrates in the city gets its name from socrates. did you just? i'm greek so i can pretend i'm someone with greek philosophy and we picked been in socrates because socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. and then he blew his brains out in an alley. so sad. soccer trees sd